I have always loved music, all kinds of music and for as long as I can remember. As I child, my parents loved Big Band and Swing sound which took me years to appreciate.
Later, I became a interested in the Beatles and Rock-n-roll. I was even a lead singer for our local group that we simply called, 'Mad Dog,' and this was before Joe Cocker and Mad Dog and Englishmen made the scene. Arlan was my best, best friend then and he co-wrote with me and played rhythm guitar. We just clicked musically. We were kind of like Lennon and McCartney in that our arrangement just worked. Wild Little Bill was our keyboard guy and he was a classic trained pianist. Don't laugh, so was Elton John! Our drummer Doug, was taught how to play drums by Don Brewer, drummer and original founding member of Grand Funk Railroad. Doug always wanted to play country so even though he was good, he did not quite fit the image of rock-n-roll. I saw Doug years ago in Nashville, TN. He actually used to play for Johnny Cash as a road drummer. We had problems with bass guitar and lead guitar. Always there was a makeshift for these two positions. But the guy we wanted as lead was Chuck. Chuck seriously could have been another Jimmy Hendrix. He was phenomenal! There were just three problems with getting and keeping Chuck. First, he did so many drugs he could hardly keep a two second cohesive conversation. Secondly, he would space out and forget to show up. Third, Chuck would not play without his drummer, Mat. But OH my, it was weird when we practiced with Chuck. When he played it was like he was a completely different person. Watching him change from teenage wasteland into a musical genius was like hearing the theme song to the 'Twilight Zone.'
We had a little following and people especially liked our original songs and unique sound.
My best friend and I would get together. I would hum out the melody; he would lay down the music with guitar and I would write out the lyrics. I wanted to get serious about this, but my friend was mostly into current top 40 stuff and it was just fun to him. I thought if I could play an instrument, maybe I could have had more of an influence over our direction. My only instrument if you will, was my voice and maybe some percussion stuff. Oh, and by the way, contrary to what some think, the human voice can be an acutely sensitive, highly developed and a finely tuned instrument!
The most incredible voices as instruments I have ever heard are (in no particular order): Andrea Bocelli, the boys choir called Libera, and one you may have never heard of, Shawn Phillips. I am not saying I had or have one of these instrument voices, I'm just making a statement.
Anyway, our little group 'Mad Dog' used to try and find places just to practice. We once broke into a church. Another time, we went out to a farm so we wouldn't bother anyone or so we thought. We rented a portable generator and cranked up the volume. This was when I first understood how sound travels. A neighbor farm miles away called into town and the farmer that let us practice there had to drive 20 miles, just to tell us to knock it off.
My Dad played the bugle in the navy and my brother played the trumpet. We had no other instruments in our home. I knew of no other family member that played an instrument.
My exposure to classical music was through cartoons on television and Walt Disney animated movies. My only formal training of any note (no pun intended), was my brief lessons on the flute and voice in Jr. High School and Senior High School.
My Dad's best friend, and fishing buddy Boone Shaw, owned a music store, but he played no instrument and I don't think the guy could even keep a beat. But his store of quality (Shaw Music), was built from his reputation, as one of the finest piano tuners around. Who knows, he may have tuned my girlfriend's piano around 1969?
I am confident that if I really wanted formal lessons with any instrument, there would have been a way made possible for me. We could have probably gotten a deal or a discount from my Dad's friend at his store. But, something deep within me desired to compose my own music. Mostly, I kept myself musically satiated, by making up tunes and lyrics and singing them to the rivers, rocks, roads and rails.
Today, my knowledge of theory is most likely, far less than even rough, rudimentary or less than basic. I cannot read music notation or write music. I cannot play anything most people would recognize or would be familiar with. So if you ever hear me play, please don't ask me to play something you know, because I can't.
I don't even know if I play the piano correctly.
Perhaps, I have perfect pitch or my ears do, as I cannot play a piano that is out of tune. I cannot tell you why it is out of tune, only that it is. Maybe if I was interested and was properly trained, I might become a pretty good tuner?
It is kind of funny to me, but here in Rochester, NY is the world famous, Eastman School of Music. They have students from all over the world and many graduates have gone on to have distinguished careers. Some are even famous. Eastman has a huge building full of practice rooms, just for the students. I know because, I have tried to sneak in there just to play the piano. But these practice rooms contain spinets, uprights, grand pianos of various size and even a 9' concert Grand. The funny thing to me is, I could not play any of them, BECAUSE not a one of them was in tune. It makes me wonder how anyone could receive a music degree in piano or theory from Eastman? How could they play instruments out of tune?
In 1969, I often found myself waiting for my girlfriend to get ready for our date. In her home; in the living room where I waited, was a spinet piano. I sat on the bench and softly played just a few notes over and over. I now understand that these are called 5ths. It was just 4 intervals of fifths or only 8 notes, repeated over and over again. I probably drove anyone that heard me and knew anything about music, nuts! Today, those notes have expanded into a 3 part composition, envisioned and heard inside of me, for a full orchestra. I have been playing and composing ever since 1969.
I do not play by ear as many do, which cannot read music. If these individuals hear what the music is supposed to sound like, they can just play it. I cannot do that. I play by the notes of the heart. I feel or hear something inside of me or become focused on particular sounds and feelings they evoke. Then I work to get the sounds replicated on the keys of the piano. Someday, I hope to be able to have a keyboard which accurately imitates the sounds of every instrument in an orchestra, and have the software which can transcribe my music into notation, which can be read by those which can read and play music that is written correctly. Having the necessary resources, I could lay down every instrument part as I hear them, edit and play back the music of my heart, even if it just for my ears only.
There are many artists/composers which cannot read or write music. Paul McCartney, Yanni and Stevie Wonder are just three of many. I once read the thesis of a candidate for a masters degree in music theory. The title was something like, 'The Theory of the Genius of Stevie Wonder and His Influence on Current Music Theory.' Apparently this writer believed Stevie Wonder to be a musical genius in music theory. I am doubtful that Stevie Wonder had any idea what he was doing in theory, he just 'gets it!'
Another current artist, pop, R&B, singer-songwriter, record producer, actor, and occasional rapper is American born, Shaffer Chimere Smith (born October 18, 1979). He has five top ten songs on the Billboard Hot 100 as a lead artist and two number-one albums on the Billboard 200. He has also amassed a catalog of chart-topping songs that he has written for other artists. But he is better known by his stage name as Ne-Yo. Someone once told him that he sees music (gets it), like the fictitious character Neo, sees the Matrix in the Matrix movies.
I do not compare myself to any of the artists mentioned above. My point is to show that with or without formal music training or proper technique, anyone can learn to play music. I am absolutely confident that I can teach anyone willing to learn, how to compose their own music. What I do is just like formal training, it still involves repetition.
I do not believe that artists of any genre are gifted, possess gifts from God or are gifts from God to the world. We often look for a simple answer when we cannot understand something. But I believe anyone can be taught to be artistically expressive. Sure, some people just 'get it' and some are better than others and that's just life, but anyone can be taught to some degree of success and personal satisfaction!
I am surrounded by people which can read and play music, technically; formally; accurately and beautifully. I cannot do what they can do and most cannot do what I do or so they believe.
I once bought a book of chords (with pictures), and taught myself basic chords for guitar.
I used to live in a house which had a storage room in the basement, directly under the carport above. This room was nearly a perfect echo chamber. I had a flute and a violin and would sit and play, in the dark for hours. I now own a Native American wooden flute which was hand made for me. We also have an acoustic guitar.
Though I loved rock-n-roll, I was never interested in playing electric guitar, electric flute or electric violin. I love some of the sounds, but not to replicate or reproduce them myself. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull used to amaze me with his flute playing. I found out recently that the flute was not his first choice. He self-taught himself to play and long years after his years on the road and in the studio, his daughter took up the flute as well. Then she told him he was playing incorrectly. Ian Anderson re-trained himself after this and that impresses me!
The music of others, played by others, is important and it is important to me. I love music and if there was no one to play the classics or any music, it would be a great loss. I just wanted to play my own stuff.
At some point in history, there was no music theory; no notation and there were no instruments. Someone had to make all of this stuff up. The great masters could not go down the street to pick up some sheet music, a CD or download stuff from the Internet to their iPods. All that stuff was not available then, so they wrote their own, developed their own techniques and even made up their own instruments. As to instruments, first there was a harp, then there was a harpsichord and now we have the piano. Only those that live in some distant future will know what new things lie in store.
Instead of me practicing scales, techniques, theory and the music in repetition that I cannot read or play, I practice what works for me, what I have developed and what is inside of me. I used to purposely never listen to a complete classic piece of music. I did not and still do not want my music to sound like anything I have ever heard from someone else. Maybe this is not totally avoidable since all the music of the world is after all, written on 88 keys. It is likely that sooner or later I would be impressed with some sounds as were others. I just do not consciously want to take something from others and call it my own.
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